Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips
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GETTING STARTED: THE ROUTE
A big reason why many people don't commute by bike is because they think like motorists. As drivers, they know that the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B is by Route C. Unfortunately, Route C features abundant high-velocity traffic, plenty of potholes and rough pavement, a few steep hills and several dangerous intersections. Not very attractive even for a seasoned cyclist, let alone a beginner. (Not very attractive for a motorist, for that matter.)
However, there just may be a Route D that runs parallel to Route C. Route D features slower - and thus less abundant - traffic, and is flatter with good pavement, more trees, interesting scenery and many smiling pedestrians. When I began bike commuting I would travel for part of my trip on Lombard Street, which is exactly like Route C described above.
Thousands of speeding cars pour onto Lombard off the Golden Gate Bridge, each vehicle filled with an impatient commuter from Marin County. Just past the intersection with Van Ness Avenue, Lombard climbs about a 15 percent grade to the top of Russian Hill. Idiot that I was, I'd dismount and push my bike all the way up, arriving at the top as a soggy mass of perspiration, only to "enjoy" a terrifying descent down the other side to my workplace.
Eventually I learned that if I went one block north I could bicycle comfortably on Chestnut Street, which is a slower neighborhood street running parallel to Lombard. Instead of climbing the hill, I learned that I could easily ride around it on Bay Street and avoid the sweaty ascent and white-knuckle descent.
When considering your route, don't think like a motorist. Think like a cyclist. Pick the most pleasant route. Try the bicycling directions now available on Google Maps, and there are several bicycling applications for smartphones. You may also consult Google Earth or Bikely to research your trip. Ask your local department of transportation if they have a bike route map; often these are provided at no charge, and some municipal agencies are now developing smartphone apps for bicyclists. Inquire at local bike shops, or your local bike club. Look for streets with attractive scenery. Find the friendliest espresso stop.
Part of the charm of bike commuting is that the pace and ease of parking allows you an opportunity to stop and smell the roses.
Where's the bike route?, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Omaha: New map inspires cyclists, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Nobody Bikes in L.A.: But they'd be a lot happier if they did, Slate
"This is the basis of car culture, the idea that the world and all of the world's people are merely in its way."-- Travis Hugh Culley
Comments? Suggestions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org || Updated 08.17.11
Image: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center/Dan Burden